The train slowed and signs for Wrexham station ambled past the grimy, dingy windows with ever decreasing frequency. It was the end of the line and the train emptied quickly. The second I stepped onto the platform I could hear Katie.
"Alex, Alex", I turned to follow the sound of my name and Katie was bounding towards me, her arms outstretched wide ready for our inevitable embrace. I wondered for a second if we looked like a gender confused scene from an old black and white movie, were the hero comes home after being away for years fighting in some God awful war and his wife/girlfriend sees him and they run to each other. As I looked again at Katie I remembered how much bigger than me she was, at least 6 inches, and my 50's film reunion was quickly replaced with visions of us colliding and her sending me sprawling backwards, probably over a small child in a pram or a pensioner, across the platform floor.
Luckily the exertion of the run down platform 2 had lessened her pace and by the time she reached me it was barely more than a brisk jog. Once in reach she threw her arms around me, squealing excitedly in my ears about how great it was to see me and how much of a great time we were going to have. It wasn't until I recognised my own voice in the melee that I even realised we'd both been caught up in the moment, hugging each other, telling each other how much one had missed the other and generally laughing and giggling like young children.
Looking at her, she was smiling and she was so glad to see me and knowing I felt exactly the same way, realising how much I had missed my friend, the same friend I'd waved goodbye to only two months ago, the same friend who I'd worried had changed. Stood here laughing and bobbing up and down over excitedly like teenage girls the world over, I knew my fretting had been silly, she was still my Katie.
She took one of my bags and we started the short walk back to the campus.
"Everyone is so looking forward to meeting you, you've got your own room you don't have to share with me, we're going to a party tonight, and you did remember your swimming costume didn't you? Oh, it's so great to see you again." Her works tumbled out in a rush, unable to keep up with the one way conversation I looked at her and started laughing.
Laughing back she said "Ok, ok I'll slow down, I'm sorry, I'm just so happy you're here, ok" and breathing heavily and slowly, as if trying to order her jumbled thoughts into coherent speech she began again,
"Firstly, when we get to the halls I will show you to your room, it's in the same dorm as mine just down the other end of the corridor," she went onto explain the room had actually belonged to a girl called Anna, her and her long term boyfriend had come to the university together at the start of the year, but after just two weeks she had decided the student life wasn't for her, well it was either that or finding her boyfriend in bed with a second year, and she had promptly packed her bags and left that night. Her parents had paid for the room for the year and as the university had a no returns policy the room had been empty ever since.
"So Anna left the keys on the kitchen table and went home, since then it's been our guest room." She concluded cheerily.
"Hmmm, so what were you saying about a party tonight", I enquired.
Oh yeah, the boys dorm across the landing from ours is having a party tonight, all the girls are going and you'll get to meet everyone, they're great, in fact everyone's great" she gushed.
For the rest of the walk back she tried to describe all of her new friends, but there were simply too many of them for me to keep up. There were only three who I'd sort of managed to hold in my memory these were the girl in the room next to Katie, her name was Sally and she had really short red hair.
Next was Naomi from Stockport, from Katie's descriptions she was obviously her best friend here, although Katie had gone to great pains to make sure I understood university best friends aren't anywhere near as important as real-life best friends, she made me smile as I watched her struggle to talk herself out of the tight spot she thought she'd got herself into.
And finally, the party tonight had been organised by a student called James, Katie's eyes had widened when she'd spoken about him, he was apparently, tall but not too tall, very good looking but not in a loves himself kind of way, also he has short blond hair styled so the top is an inch or two longer than the back and sides, she had drooled over his Southern Irish accent and his gorgeous blue eyes.
For a minute I was confused I knew for certain she had told me her boyfriend's name was Chris, but hey I guess things change quickly when there are over a thousand males your age to choose from, obviously reading my bewildered expression she quickly clarified the situation,
"Oh God no, James is great, not really my type, but you two would be perfect together."
"If James is so great then why hasn't he been snapped up by someone else?" a very valid point I thought, "I'm here to see you and besides long distance relationships never really work out and you know one night stands aren't my style" I explained.
"One week, one month, one year stands aren't your style either, that's your problem" she complained. We'd had this argument too many times to count over the last 18 months and I was not in the mood to explain to her again that I didn't feel the need to sleep with every boy who gave me a second glance, if truth be told I hadn't felt the need to sleep with any of them, so I hadn't, I know she was trying to help, trying to keep me 'proactive' as she'd called it, but I'd meet someone whenever, I was in no rush.
Katie had talked endlessly about Chris on the phone and I knew she was still in the glow of initial love and I knew she just wanted me to be as happy as she was, which was nice in a way but sometimes she was a little too aggressive in her matchmaking for my liking.
"Oh and James is choosy that's all, I'm not suggesting you jump into bed with him but a quick kiss surely wouldn't offend even your sensibilities, that's all I'm saying" she said raising her eyes to the heavens.
The first thing I noticed about the campus was how self contained it was, going to Liverpool the university was part of the city, embedded into the streets, but here it was like an estate built next to the town. As we walked through the gates and along the footpath Katie pointed out various buildings she thought would be of interest, the first was a single storey modern, square, white, concrete block, on one of the sides the white concrete had virtually been entirely replaced by a huge blue window, through this I could see the sparsely populated pool, this I guessed was the sports hall.
Although I could never be described as sporty I loved to swim, because of my friendship with Katie, in school I was always picked fourth or fifth when actually my sporting ability should of had me picked amongst the last, I'd never really saw the point to P.E. especially team games but swimming I just loved, I think it was because it was something I didn't need to concentrate on I could just relax and let my mind wander and before I knew it I'd lost an hour on many occasions.
The next building Katie pointed out was a huge red brick building, it was clearly no more than two or three years old but it had been designed in a way which made it obvious the powers that be at the university were trying far too hard to give the place heritage,
"That" she said "Is the library, well it's actually the main building but the library is in it, just go through the front entrance, turn left and it's at the end of the hall."
Finally she pointed out the student's union, this had definitely been an afterthought, clearly there had been vast quantities ploughed into the academic and wholesome leisure facilities to ensure they were both aesthetically pleasing and high spec. But, the student's union looked little more than a couple of portacabins welded together, its green metallic paint job doing nothing to dispel this theory.
As we turned the far corner around the huge main building there was a large car park on the right and several rows of what could only be described as white, featureless giant maisonettes, granted they were three storeys high, but none the less, still maisonettes. Katie led me to the last 'maisonette' on the front row, she explained her dorm was on the top floor.
The front door opened out onto a spacious white hallway, the only piece of furniture was adjacent to the door, it was a shelving unit filled with pigeon holes presumably for post, almost every gap had a name taped to it, Katie quickly located her own and took out a green flyer advertising December's events calendar. Ahead of us was a large window overlooking the next rank of student halls, I could see a few people milling around, not one seemed particularly in any kind of hurry. In front of the window the stairs snaked steeply upwards, the only other things in the entranceway were two doors one on either side of the vestibule.
The door on the left was a boys dorm, Katie told me it was university policy for the first floor dorm to always house males and each 'house' had a mixture of males and females as this helped to protect female residents from unwanted attention and nut jobs.
The door on the right was the 'house' laundry, Katie popped her head in looking for Chris, there were a couple of students sat at the table in the corner of the room playing cards. They looked up and greeted Katie, walking further into the room she introduced them to me,
Alex, this is Daniel and Mark they are in the same dorm as Chris, guys this is my friend Alex from home", they smiled and we returned hellos. Katie sat on one of the empty chairs and motioned for me to take the other,
"Do either of you know where Chris is, I thought he might be in here?" Katie asked both of them hopefully.
"No sorry, I haven't seen him all day", Mark answered, I noticed his cheeks blushed slightly when he spoke and I wondered if he was shy around all girls or just Katie. He caught my glance at him and he shuffled uncomfortably in his chair.
"So, you here just for the night or the whole weekend?" Daniel enquired,
"She's here until Monday" Katie cut me off before I had chance to reply.
"Actually, I might have to go on Sunday I'm not sure yet I've got loads to do before Monday's lectures, it depends how much I get done."
"Arrggh, take the weekend off, you work too hard, you make me feel guilty, haven't you missed me at all", Katie barked through her sulking pout.
"You don't feel guilty, certainly not about studying, anyway you might want to get rid of me by Sunday and of course I've missed you" I said appeasingly.
"Erm girls, the love-in's great and all but this kind of thing is why we don't invite you to poker nights", Daniel said with a grin, he was the complete antithesis of Mark he was relaxed, confident and funny. I thought what an odd pair, clearly friends but not a bit alike, then I thought of me and Katie and smiled to myself, misinterpreting my musings,
"Finally, glad to see someone around here who can appreciate my wit" Daniel joked.
"Oh don't encourage him" Katie and Mark said in groaning unison.
"Right, as pleasant as talking to you two is this isn't helping me find Chris, if you see him will you tell him I'm looking for him please Mark?" Daniel opened his mouth as if to speak but Katie cut him off "Thank you Mark, I know you won't forget" she said pointedly, "Bye see you later".
We quickly said our goodbyes and headed towards the hallway. Once out of ear shot I subtly ventured
"They seemed nice" looking at me curiously she said,
"They are, Mark's great, I wouldn't of thought he was your type though, a little bit too much 'backwards in coming forwards' and with you being the way you are, you two would never get together, no James is much more suitable. As for Daniel, don't even waste your time, he's got a girlfriend, Tina, she's been up a couple of times, she seems alright but he dotes on her."
On the other two floors, there was a dorm to the left of the stairs and another to the right of the stairs, Katie's room was in the top left dorm. She opened the door to her dorm onto a long narrow corridor, it had been painted magnolia with lights embedded into the ceiling every couple of steps in an attempt to make it seem wider, but I was certain I could easily stretch my arms out and touch both walls. Along the right hand side of the corridor were six doors evenly spread down the wall.
The first door on the right led into Katie's room, she opened the door and I was astounded by the sheer volume of stuff she'd managed to cram into the tiny space. Her parents had needed to go in separate cars when Katie had left for university so she could take everything she needed, all her essentials as she'd put it.
The door opened from right to left and immediately to the right was another door, this led to the bathroom, next to the bathroom was a white wooden two door wardrobe, flush to the wardrobe was a chest of drawers, again wooden and painted white, on top of this was Katie's portable TV and DVD player, her midi system and stacks of CD's and DVD's lay strewn across the surface. Next to the chest of drawers was a desk, again white, this too was clustered but this time with make-up, perfume, hair products and jewellery, this fit snugly against the far wall with the only window in the room looking down onto the desk. Along with the window and desk the back wall also held a slim three drawer bedside cabinet and the bed head. At the opposite end of the bed there was a foot or so of floor space which wasn't encompassed in the swing of the door, and that was the entire room.
I wondered if the room designers had also worked on the 'Tardis' as I marvelled at the sheer amount of Katie's belongings which somehow fit into this 'cupboardesque' room, I half expected every door to burst open and Katie's possessions to spring forth like a freed Jack in the box, spewed like a kaleidoscope around the tiny room.
The thought reminded me of being a kid and being told by my mum to tidy my room, although predictable I was always amazed how she knew to go to the toy cupboard, she'd fling it open and stand back anticipating the inevitable avalanche spilling dolls, games, clothes and Lego like a wave of childhood into the room, then side stepping the debris she would tell me to do it again, only properly this time. I knew an involuntary smile had fleetingly played across my face as I'd remembered my mum trying to sound stern, but she always betrayed herself by not being able to contain the twitch of a smile at the sides of her mouth, and her eyes would shine with amusement. Katie's voice brought me out of my reverie,
"Is everything ok?" concern clearly etched into her tone, hesitating she asked "You were thinking about your mum weren't you?"
"Yeah, I'm ok, how did you know what I was thinking about?" I questioned,
"You always get the same half smile on your face and you look so sad, it makes me want to cry", her words hung in the air between us for just a second before I cut through the silence with what I hoped was a believable reassurance,
"No really I'm fine, sometimes things just remind me of her, but in a good way", I hastened to add, "I remember a happy time or something funny or how much she loved me, it was a long time ago, I'm fine".
Katie still looked like she might start crying at any moment so I quickly changed the subject,
"So where's this guest room then?" clearly glad of the redirection Katie adjusted my bag on her shoulder and ushered me out of her room, she pointed down the corridor.
"Yours is the end one on the left, I've just got to get the keys." As my gaze followed her pointed finger down the passageway I counted only four doors on this side, the first two had been replaced by a large open kitchen. Every surface was pristine and gleaming, I doubted if Katie had ever cleaned anything in this kitchen, then I corrected my thought, I doubted if Katie had ever used anything in this kitchen, she could hardly be described as a domestic goddess, she'd been fourteen before her mother would let her use the kettle.
There was a huge fridge in the bottom left corner of the room with an equally impressive freezer next to it. I'd only been able to tell them apart because Katie had taken two cans of diet coke out of the fridge. In the middle of the kitchen was a dining table, around it were six chairs, there were clearly ten rooms in the dorm and I wondered what would happen if they all wanted to sit and eat at the same time, again Katie could read my thoughts, we really had been friends forever, she opened a tall cupboard and in it were four folded chairs and cleaning equipment, she explained there was an extra section so you could extend the table if needed. Katie's focus returned to the table, there was a set of keys sat in the centre, she picked them up, gave them a little jangle and said
"Let's go, let me show you to your room, madam" in her best 'Upstairs Downstairs' butler voice. I giggled at her frighteningly good impression and followed her down the corridor.
Whereas her room had been jam packed, this room was empty, colourless and cold, I sort of understood her need to fill her room so much now. Apart from the furniture, there was clean white bedding on the single bed, Katie explained the halls of residences have a cleaner who changes the bedding once a week and cleans the communal areas, that I thought explained the sparkling kitchen. I also noticed a TV and DVD player on the chest of drawers and a handful of films. Impressed with the level of room service until Katie told me they belonged to Chris, he'd very kindly lent them to me for the weekend, I must remember to thank him, I told myself.
Katie put my bag down on the bed and edged towards the door,
"I'll give you some time to unpack, as soon as you've finished come to my room and I'll show you around, I could do with going the shops for a bottle for tonight, don't let me forget. Oh and while I remember there's a list on the desk of opening times for college facilities, thought you might be interested". With that she gave me another hug and told me how great it was to finally see me again, handed me one of the cans of diet coke then left.
This is the very first thing I've written on here, so all feedback will be thankfully received, good or bad, as I know you are trying to help me. So thanks in advance.